10/07/97 - 05:25 PM ET - Click reload often for latest version

White House searching for more tapes

WASHINGTON - The White House said Tuesday it may be unable to meet a Friday deadline from House campaign fund-raising investigators seeking all tapes showing political events such as the coffees President Clinton held for selected donors.

Press secretary Mike McCurry said aides are ''painstakingly'' searching for the tapes and will turn them over swiftly. ''I don't anticipate that happening this week,'' he told reporters, because aides are overwhelmed by ''basketfuls of subpoenas.''

In a letter to Clinton on Monday, Rep. Dan Burton, chairman of the House Government Reform and Oversight Committee, asked that the White House hand over ''all relevant and unedited videotapes and/or audiotapes'' by week's end.

Burton, R-Ind., also asked the White House to submit logs of recorded White House events and the names of staffers who handled the tapes by the close of business Tuesday - to comply with a March subpoena for any records of White House events connected to Democratic National Committee fund raising.

''The recent events with the White House videotapes of fund-raising events demonstrate that the White House still is not complying with our subpoenas,'' Burton wrote. ''There is deliberate foot-dragging and misrepresentations going on within the White House.''

Burton's request came as the White House confirmed that a search was under way for an unspecified number of additional recordings of White House political events. Already, the White House released footage from 44 coffees recorded by White House crews between Aug. 3, 1995, and Aug. 23, 1996.

McCurry complained that broadly worded subpoenas and unfocused committee requests have made it difficult for the White House to turn over material to investigators. ''It's been an overwhelming ... task to respond promptly to all the requests that we have,'' he said.

White House spokesman Lanny Davis declined to estimate how many more videotapes may be found. ''I know we're looking for a lot more than a few,'' Davis said.

The Senate committee probing Democratic fund raising had asked the Clinton administration whether such tapes existed in early August. White House counsel Charles F.C. Ruff insisted Monday that aides searched for the tapes and ''believed at that time'' that they did not exist.

''The White House has not withheld intentionally, and never would withhold, any material responsive to a committee request or subpoena,'' Ruff wrote in a letter to Sen. Fred Thompson, chairman of the Senate investigating committee, and ranking Democrat John Glenn of Ohio.

Clinton said Monday that the delayed release of the videotapes ''was just an accident.''

''All I can tell you is, as soon as I found out about it, late last week, I said, 'Get this out and let's go on,''' he said.

Republican lawmakers, however, were suspicious.

Donald T. Bucklin, an attorney for the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee, said he received information in late July or early August that the little-known White House Communications Agency may have taped political events.

He said he passed that information on to Michael Imbroscio, a White House counsel, on Aug. 7, and followed up with a letter to another administration lawyer, Lanny Breuer, on Aug. 19. Breuer told Senate lawyers in a meeting in September that there were no such recordings, Bucklin said.

According to Ruff, the Senate committee asked on Aug. 7 ''whether there was a practice of clandestinely recording Oval Office meetings or conversations.'' Bucklin's Aug. 19 letter inquired ''more broadly into any recordings made by the White House Communications Agency (WHCA),'' Ruff wrote.

At the Sept. 7 meeting with congressional investigators, Ruff wrote, the administration ''informed them (committee staff) that no clandestine taping had occurred but that WHCA had taped a number of DNC (Democratic National Committee) fund-raising dinners and similar events.

''We believed at that time, and so stated, that WHCA had not taped the coffees but said that we would inquire further.'' Ruff said the additional inquiry discovered the tapes last Wednesday evening.

The tapes of the 1996 coffees, released Sunday by the White House, show Clinton thanking his visitors without asking for money. In footage from one reception, then-Democratic National Chairman Don Fowler refused five checks offered by a guest, apologized and said the donations could be discussed later.

Arief Wiriadinata, an Indonesian landscape architect whose $450,000 in DNC donations were returned after it was discovered he and his wife did not file a 1995 federal tax return, is shown on one tape greeting Clinton at a Dec. 15, 1995, coffee, according to a Senate investigator.

''James Riady sent me,'' Wiriadanata told Clinton, referring to the son of Lippo Group founder Mochtar Riady. The Senate committee has been investigating any connections between Lippo and foreign money donated illegally to the Democratic Party.

In response to Wiriadanata's greeting, Clinton replied, ''Yes ... I'm glad to see you.''

The White House, while acknowledging the coffees were Democratic Party events for current and prospective donors, says no laws were broken because nobody was asked for money at the events on government property. Solicitations on U.S. property where government business is conducted are forbidden by law.

Videotapes of White House events are made for historical purposes as a record of a presidency. Davis said a request to record an event typically was made by a senior aide. He would not say which aides put in such requests, and could provide no details on whether the requests are made informally by telephone, on short notice, or through paperwork.

By The Associated Press

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